Kratie, Cambodia

Where is the road calling you?

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Kratie, Cambodia

No, It Wasn’t a Meow!

Remembering kindness from March 2011

I had dozed off momentarily only to wake in the midst of our surprisingly clean, comfortable bus coming to a slow, rolling stop. The driver’s assistant yelled out the name of our stop, prompting the two of us to step down from the bus stairs and gather our large packs from the cargo area below. I quickly came to the conclusion there was something vastly different about this stop, realizing not a single other tourist was standing with bags in hand watching the bus veer back onto the road and continue on. A short walk around the small, dirty town revealed we were two of the few tourists choosing to stop in Kratie for a night or two versus continuing on to Siem Reap.

Kratie, CambodiaWith little to do other than explore our first stop in Cambodia, we took our time walking the streets and observing the simple sights of town. My curiosity peaked as I noticed a white chalk outline of a person carved into the asphalt. I tilted my head slightly, wondering if the drawing held the same significance as back home. We would be educated later that day on the practical purpose for the sketch, documenting a recent motorbike accident. Within five minutes of our casual stroll it became increasingly apparent we had found an adorable town effortlessly capable of creating gratitude for anyone choosing to experience it.

As we rounded a street corner and continued our walk before heading back to our room and choosing a destination for dinner that evening, my jaw nearly dropped to my feet. There, to my right, sat a line of slightly scraggly people in simple chairs. The glass providing shelter and any amount of sterility for the local doctor’s office was non-existent. Dirt and grime hung casually in the air as cars and motorbikes rolled along the worn road outside. The patients sat calmly with IV’s stuck into their veins, unable to change the reality of their situation. My heart dropped heavy into my stomach with sympathy as I swallowed the growing lump in my throat.

With a nagging pain in my back begging for relief, I decided to visit a local pharmacy with Jessie to assess my options. With limited English on behalf of the “pharmacist” and a complete lack of the local dialect on my account, I struggled with inefficient charades to convey my needs. The women behind the counter eventually understand my dilemma, placing a pharmaceutical morphine drip in front of me. Good Lord! I wasn’t looking to be completely incapacitated! A heavy pounding of the local brew couldn’t touch the hammering of such intoxication, not like I was looking for the experience. I declined the effort of our accommodating hosts, opting to cope with the discomfort of another long travel day without the use of narcotic relief.Posing in Kratie, Cambodia

I couldn’t help replaying the image repeatedly in my mind as we readied ourselves for dinner, stepping out into the street lining our guesthouse and choosing a simple stand complete with red and blue plastic chairs and a menu with English translation. Our hearts were once again warmed by the smiles and hospitality of our dinner host, apologizing for her inability to speak perfect English. We returned our own regrets for not understanding the native language before graciously ordering our meals, watching her curiously as she prepared our food in front of us over an open flame with her heavily utilized wok and attempting to communicate as best we could.

An elderly couple approached the booth, greeting the woman before turning in our direction to acknowledge our presence with a kind demeanor. They sat next to us, occupying two of the remaining few chairs and hopeful of a conversation. Our lone ability to comprehend any questions they had was through our street food chef capable of relaying the main idea of what was being said. We began answering the typical questions we’d already become accustomed to; if we were married, if we had family, if we had children, etc. Upon discovering we hadn’t yet created offspring of our own, they wondered how many children a family generally had in our culture. Of course the use of birth control was far too difficult to convey to our new observers.

As we answered their question as simply as possible with our fingers extended to help them understand (two or three), we returned the same question to them. The responded honestly and quickly, explaining to us they would bear as many children as they could make. We didn’t need to communicate very efficiently to share in the amusement of such a response, sparking about of laughter from all parties involved. To help satisfy their curiosity, we removed the Ipod still housed in Jessie’s purse, seizing the opportunity to display photos we had brought of our loved ones back home.

1-IMG_4457Their smiles widened as they adored the pictures, looking fondly on people who varied drastically from those in their home country. The last photo in our small digital album showed two adorable kittens with long light hair and bright blue eyes, prompting gasps of awe from our audience. Our host explained excitedly that she liked “meows” with blue eyes, forcing wider smiles of pleasure on each of our faces. Our eyes widened with surprise when the lights in the street shut down abruptly, the entire town rendered powerless momentarily. The scampering of tiny claws and the soft squeaks of rats echoed from under the tables, prompting us to jerk our knees up into the underside of the table. I had faced the lone animal capable of instigating shrieks from a grown man comparable to those of an adolescent child scared shitless during the viewing of a horror movie.

The locals next to us laughed at the entertainment, our wonderful chef most likely not knowing the English word for “rat.” She had offered up the same word as before, wondering if we had felt a “meow” on our feet. We could only laugh harder and shake our heads drastically to convey with certainty we had not felt the hurried shuffle of a “meow.” Even the mangiest of meows would have been a welcome guest compared to the unwanted dinner guests we sought to avoid.


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